American Forces Press Service
Feb. 18, 2009 - Improving a school, issuing small business grants and providing vocational training were just a few of the civil and economic enhancements U.S. forces completed in southern Iraq in recent days. Such projects are typical throughout the country as U.S. forces work to return Iraq to sovereignty. But one mission stood out -- the 1st Cavalry Division added a TV and radio news station to the refurbishment list.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team's 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment "Thunder Horse" soldiers put the finishing touches on the An-Nasr station in Dhi Qar province Feb 11.
When the Thunder Horse Battalion assumed duty in Dhi Qar last July, the soldiers visited the Iraqi media site to find a leaky roof and multiple electrical problems. The unit's leaders immediately started the process to enroll the station in the Commander's Emergency Relief Program.
"I think it's something positive for these people here in An-Nasr," Army Capt. Matthew Guevara, the civil military operations officer for the battalion, said. "Our guys have helped [local reporters] since we got here, and we always invite them to our missions."
The An-Nasr station provides regional news from Baghdad to the Dhi Qar province, and also distributes daily local news to its Iraqi audience.
"It was very good working with the [American forces]. I can't believe how nice everyone was," Naceem Naseer Hussaid, a station engineer, said. "I had other engineers visit this station, and they were very impressed with the equipment and improvements that were made to the station."
In other developments, residents of the Jurf Nadaf community, east of Baghdad, and soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, met Feb. 12 for a ribbon-cutting celebration at the Al Ghasacena Primary School to celebrate completion of a major refurbishment there.
Teachers and staff held the celebration to emphasize the reconstruction gains in the area. With funding from the Commander's Emergency Relief Program, the project included the addition of nine new classrooms and a new restroom.
The ceremony included student performances and comments from local governing officials.
"Since the 'Iron Knights' began their deployment in the Jisr Diyala Nahia in April, they have worked hard to improve the quality of education received by the students in the area," Abdul Razzaq, education committee chairman on the Nahia council, said. "In total, they have completed over 16 education projects at a cost of over $2.5 million."
During the celebration, students from every grade at the school performed skits and dances.
"It is wonderful to receive appreciation from the populace for a job well done. This celebration was a very fun and entertaining gesture of that Iraqi appreciation," Army Capt. Andrew Besser, the civil military operations officer of Task Force 1-35 Armor, said.
The school is located on a historically sectarian fault line, but now enjoys relative peace and cooperation.
"This project is successful because of the gains in security that have been accomplished over the past six months by [coalition forces] and the national police," Razzaq said. "God willing, the peace will continue. We will continue to rebuild Iraq, and our children will enjoy a safe, prosperous future."
Also on Feb. 12, seven business owners in the Jisr Diyala area received a $500 microgrant from the Commanders Emergency Relief Program to improve their businesses.
Since April, Task Force 1-35 Armor has given numerous microgrants to jump start and continue economic growth in local Iraqi communities.
"These microgrants are an opportunity for [Task Force] 1-35 to invest in the long-term stability of the region's economy," Besser said.
U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police chose the seven from among the more than 50 applications submitted. They spent more than two months doing interviews and on-site inspections to determine which businesses would receive the grants.
"We were looking for established, credible businesses that could use the micro grant to grow and develop," Besser said.
The soldiers and police also consider the economic needs of the broader community when awarding the grants, Besser said. "We try to keep the money in the area to further help the economy. We get them what they need to increase, repair and produce new jobs."
Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Keller said he is pleased with how well the business owners use the grants.
"I have been involved in many microgrant operations and every time I do them, I see so many people that use these grants in the best way," Keller said. "This is not a charity. We expect a lot from them and, for the most part, they deliver."
Also in Iraq:
-- The Taji Vocational Institute, created last year by Army Materiel Command, graduated 18 new tracked vehicle mechanics and nine forklift operators at a Feb. 11 ceremony. The TVI has graduated 685 soldiers in 34 depot-level maintenance and supply skills since opening in March.
-- Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq's engineering directorate held an Iraqi-requested three-day "refresher training" session Feb. 9-12 on how to maintain the hundreds of diesel generators the coalition has installed across Iraq. The training, led by Versar Inc., a contractor to the command, included both classroom and hands-on training. The course was designed so that those Iraqis trained can, in turn, train others.
(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)